Stand Firm: Chiasmus in Dallin H. Oaks’ “The Plan and the Proclamation”

Perhaps the main controversy within the LDS Church over the past decade has concerned The Family: A Proclamation to the World. This document, announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley in September 1995 and approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, lays out Latter-day Saint beliefs about the family and explains the importance of governmental efforts to strengthen the family.

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Dallin H. Oaks (lds.org)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ address at the October 2017 General Conference sought to clarify misunderstandings about the Proclamation and strengthen the faith and resolve of Church members to live and teach according to it. Elder Oaks also shared his experience participating in its creation. Describing it as a “revelatory process,” he explained how members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “pleaded with the Lord for His inspiration on what they should say and how they should say it.” Elder Oaks affirmed that the Proclamation is “a statement of eternal truth.”*

To emphasize different aspects of his address, Elder Oaks used the rhetorical figures of chiasmus and parallelism, including several from the words of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, the Apostle James, and Gordon B. Hinckley. Interestingly, in the New Testament examples, Elder Oaks selected the portion of the verse that is a chiasm or parallelism, and, in one instance, omitted text in order to create or enhance a chiasm. In this paper, we diagram and analyze examples from each of these Church leaders.

*For a detailed analysis of chiasmus in the family proclamation, see our ebook: A Chiastic Analysis of ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ (Westbench Publishing, 2016).

Dallin H. Oaks

#1: Elder Oaks opened his talk with a chiasm that describes how Latter-day Saints “forgo participation” in “some subjects” because of their “unique doctrine” and efforts to “follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles.”

A: As is evident in our family proclamation, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
B: are blessed with unique doctrine and different ways of viewing the world.
C: We participate and even excel
D: in many worldly activities,
D: but on some subjects
C: we forgo participation
B: as we seek to follow the teachings of
A: Jesus Christ and His Apostles, ancient and modern.


#2: In this parallelism, Elder Oaks describes how faithful Latter-day Saints, or “those who strive for exaltation,” differ from “the world’s way” in their “personal choices in family life.”

A: Even as we
B: must live with the marriage laws and other traditions
C: of a declining world,
A: those who strive for exaltation
B: must make personal choices in family life according to the Lord’s way
C: whenever that differs from the world’s way.


#3: Here, Elder Oaks uses a chiasm to contrast those who “grow and mature” by “choosing to obey God’s commandments” with those who “forgo that growth and maturity” by choosing to disobey or “deliberately refrain” from following God.

A: We grow and mature spiritually
B: by choosing to obey God’s commandments in a succession of right choices.
C: These include covenants and ordinances
C: and repentance when our choices are wrong.
B: In contrast, if we lack faith in God’s plan and are disobedient to or deliberately refrain from its required actions,
A: we forgo that growth and maturity.


#4: In this parallelism, Elder Oaks shows how faithful Latter-day Saints have “distinctive priorities and practices” because of their “worldview.” As these priorities and practices sometimes result in “frustrations and pains,” Latter-day Saints are blessed through “[o]ur Savior’s Atonement” with the “strength to endure.”

A: Latter-day Saints who understand God’s plan of salvation have a unique worldview
B: that helps them see the reason for God’s commandments, the unchangeable nature of His required ordinances, and the fundamental role of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
C: Our Savior’s Atonement reclaims us from death and, subject to our repentance, saves us from sin.
A: With that worldview, Latter-day Saints have
B: distinctive priorities and practices
C: and are blessed with the strength to endure the frustrations and pains of mortal life.


#5: In this parallelism, Elder Oaks contrasts “[t]hose who do not believe in or aspire to exaltation” with “Latter-day Saints,” implying that Church members who reject the doctrine of exaltation are on dangerous ground. Rather than being a mere “statement of policy that should be changed,” the family proclamation “defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.”

A: Those who do not believe in or aspire to exaltation and are most persuaded by the ways of the world
B: consider this family proclamation as
C: just a statement of policy that should be changed.
A: In contrast, Latter-day Saints
B: affirm that the family proclamation
C: defines the kind of family relationships where the most important part of our eternal development can occur.


#6: This parallelism expresses the dual responsibilities shouldered by Latter-day Saints: “following the gospel law in our personal lives” and “show[ing] love for all.”

A: We must try to
B: balance the competing demands of following the gospel law
C: in our personal lives and teachings,
A: even as we seek to
B: show love
C: for all.


#7: Elder Oaks uses a chiasm to declare his testimony that the family proclamation is “a statement of eternal truth” and to encourage Church members to “teach it” and “live by it.”

A: I testify that the proclamation on the family is a statement of eternal truth, the will of the Lord for His children who seek eternal life.
B: It has been the basis of Church teaching and practice
C: for the last 22 years
C: and will continue so for the future.
B: Consider it as such, teach it, live by it,
A: and you will be blessed as you press forward toward eternal life.


#8: Referring to the teachings of President Ezra Taft Benson, this parallelism shows how “our attitude toward and use of the family proclamation” is one of the tests of our generation. Elder Oaks encourages us to “stand firm in that test.”

A: Forty years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson taught
B: that “every generation has its tests
C: and its chance to stand and prove itself.”
A: I believe
B: our attitude toward and use of the family proclamation is one of those tests for this generation.
C: I pray for all Latter-day Saints to stand firm in that test.


Jesus Christ

#1: In these two parallelisms, Jesus contrasts the things of God with the things of men and shows how our souls are infinitely more valuable than the riches of the world. (See Matthew 16:23, 26)

“Later, Jesus corrected Peter for not savoring

A: ‘the things that
B: be of God,
A: but those that
B: be of men,’

declaring, ‘For what is a man profited,

A: if he shall gain
B: the whole world,
A: and lose
B: his own soul?'”


#2: In these two antithetic chiasms, Jesus teaches His Apostles about the intolerance of the world. (see John 15:19)

A: “If ye were
B: of the world,
B: the world would
A: love his own:

A: but because ye are
B: not of the world,
B: … the world
A: hateth you.


Paul

#1: Mirroring the teachings of Jesus that contrast the things of God with the things of men, the Apostle Paul uses a parallelism to show how God is superior to man. (See 1 Corinthians 3:19)

A: “For the wisdom
B: of this world
A: is foolishness
B: with God.


James

#1: Building on these teachings that contrast God and the world, the Apostle James shows in this parallelism that man cannot be friends with both God and the world. (See James 4:4)

A: “the friendship
B: of the world
C: is enmity
D: with God[.]
A: Whosoever therefore will be a friend
B: of the world
C: is the enemy
D: of God


Gordon B. Hinckley

#1: When President Hinckley introduced the family proclamation on September 23, 1995, he included this three-part parallelism about the “sophistry,” “deception,” and “allurement and enticement” of the world that necessitated the “warn[ing] and forewarn[ing]” of the proclamation.

A: “With so much of
B: sophistry
C: that is passed off as truth,
A: with so much of
B: deception
C: concerning standards and values,
A: with so much of
B: allurement and enticement
C: to take on the slow stain of the world,
we have felt to warn and forewarn.”


#2: Using the rhetorical figure of anaphora, President Hinckley shared his optimistic vision about Church members who would faithfully “live the gospel” in “a very uncertain world.”

“I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world.
A: If we will
B: cling to our values,
A: if we will
B: build on our inheritance,
A: if we will
B: walk in obedience before the Lord,
A: if we will
B: simply live the gospel,
A: we will be
B: blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way.
A: We will be
B: looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness.”


Conclusion:

Elder Oaks’ skillful use of chiasmus and parallelism draws attention to and reinforces different aspects of his address. Specifically, chiasmus and parallelism allow him to contrast and compare with exactness and clarity and to focus the attention of his audience. A careful reading of his address, with an awareness of his use of rhetorical figures, will allow the seeker after truth to develop a correct understanding of the Proclamation and withstand the false teachings the adversary seeks to spread.

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